Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Are You Tough?

I'm not.

For the average person on the street to take off and run fifteen miles because of some dire situation, it would likely require that the person persevere through pain, discomfort, and uncertainty. In many cases the person would even face real issues of life and death. A not tough person in that case would probably give up and drop in despair, whereas a tough person may push on until he or she drops dead.

The untough prepare and condition themselves so they don't land in unfamiliar circumstances related to pain, discomfort, and uncertainty. If I build up to being able to run fifteen miles by first running two, then three, then five, etc. I slowly learn what to expect, what pains and discomforts might be normal and with that I can reduce the uncertainties. Through the conditioning that may take many weeks one gets to the point where they are confident that they can do it and the unknowns are minimized.

So what if I had to run 50 miles, or 100. Would it require toughness at some point or would I be able to prepare and condition myself enough so that I am familiar with the possible pains, discomforts, and uncertainties so that I'd be able to endure them? Let's use a simple common example. I never get blisters, but let's say that sixty miles down the trail I develop some horrendous ones. Being prepared, I may have some means to alleviate the situation somewhat by applying an ointment, in which case a high level of toughness isn't required or I push through the pain, intellectualizing that I only have a superficial irritation and if I can keep my attention elsewhere some natural endorphins may come to the rescue. If I've trained to run 100 miles I'm sure I have experienced having to deal with pain and discomfort so maybe I'd be able to handle blisters.

When do I need to be tough? There could be potential problems with hydration, electrolyte levels, and injuries that physically make it impossible for me to go on even though I resort to crawling forward. Am I tough at that point? If I'm sleep deprived, hallucinating, and vomiting and still able to put one foot in front of the other, am I tough? Or am I still in some kind of comfort zone because I've been here before and putting one foot in front of the other is where I'm most comfortable?

The moment I face an unknown or uncertainty that I can't make familiar, especially if I'm on the edge of physical exhaustion and mentally fragile, I quit, I give up, let me lay down in the fetal position with a beer. I'm not tough; I'm just prepared, conditioned, and experienced.

Long distance runners gain some transfer; we certainly feel comfortable facing challenges on the trail and probably even some challenges away from that realm. Part of pushing our limits is to extend our comfort zone, to be tough so we don't really have to be tough. For most people, persevering in the face of the unknown is where we may be called upon to be tough, but even then, if we have enough experience facing the unknown, we don't have to be tough.

I teach, and in education I see too many students who are put in a position of having to be tough or quit because they are not prepared, conditioned, and face the unknown. Using a parallel, too often they find themselves being able to run two miles but viewing the next concept or unit as being asked to run twenty and they give up or make excuses. Too often, teachers make assumptions about where students are and ask them to run twenty miles instead of three when they are able to run two.

If I can have control and gradually build up experience and conditioning and not face big unknowns, I'm in, but if I truly have to be tough, I'm going home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Three Peaks

I had been wanting to do a run that included the three peaks of South Boulder Peak, Bear Peak, and Green Mountain for quite a while and yesterday finally seemed like an appropriate day. My conditioning is decent and the weather was right; it was about 60 degrees with low clouds and occasional drizzle.

The adventure began in Eldorado Springs where I took the Towhee Trail to the Shadow Canyon Trail. The Towhee Trail has a 9% average grade on which I was able to maintain a running pace, but once in Shadow Canyon the average climb becomes 24% and I soon found myself power plodding or maybe I'd call it speed stumbling. One mile took 42 minutes. At just about three miles I arrived at the summit of South Boulder Peak which is in effect a pile of Boulders 2500 feet above South Boulder Creek where I began. I took a few pictures and was ready to head back down to the truck. I picked my way back down about 350 vertical feet to the bottom of the saddle which lies between SoBo and Bear Peak where I drank some water and ate a Clif Bar. I decided to go for the next peak which isn't that far and is only another 250 foot climb. I would decide there whether to continue to on over to the summit of Green Mountain or return.

At the top of Bear Peak I was feeling better physically and mentally as well because I had now reach two out of three of my destinations. I was ready to move on to Green Mountain. After an initially steep descent I found a the Green Bear Trail runnable as it headed down to a little valley behind Green Mountain and then started up it. I would say I lost and then gained about 1200 feet of elevation on the journey between the two peaks.

Before starting out I had envisioned myself heading down to Chautauqua Park from Green Mountain and then taking the Mesa Trail all the way back to Eldorado Springs but I had already been out for three hours and thought it would be better to take the route through Bear Canyon to pick up the Mesa Trail. The Bear Canyon trail was an enjoyable descent to run and I'll probably go back there because it seemed the most runnable incline of the day. Somehow I missed the Mesa Trail and was told by a couple different people walking there that I would have to go back up to connect to it. I ran back up to a trail intersection with a posted map but I couldn't make sense of it relative to what I was seeing. I decided to run back down and see if I could pick up a different trail that might connect. I ended up in a neighborhood which may have been better in the long run; I was able to fill up my water bottles at a community pool drinking fountain and also down 24 ounces quickly.

I found a trailhead with a map. There was a low route and I high route to where I needed to go. Both ways were about four miles. Again I misinterpreted the map; a turn-off was much sooner than expected and I ended up on a long descent to the high route. At this point though, rehydrated I felt fresh even though I had been out for more than five hours. I finally picked up the Mesa Trail and felt some comfort of knowing where I was and the definite distance that remained.

I don't have accurate data on distance and elevation because the iphone doesn't have the battery power to operate the Mapmyrun app for so long, but I think the total distance was only around 15 miles, possibly even less, but the elevation gain and loss was likely around 6000 feet.

It's interesting that I didn't feel as spent after the run as I have on other outings of even three hours. I functioned normally last night and feel OK today; there's not even any concomitant soreness. I didn't expect I'd run today, but now I think it's likely.

Bear Peak and South Boulder Peak as seen from the valley behind Green Mountain

Green Mountain as seen from Bear Peak

View to the Continental Divide from South Boulder Peak

The playground as seen from Cherryvale

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Pattern

I am returning to my summer running routine. Since my last post of nine days ago I have run a dozen times. I would like to keep going every day as long as I feel I can. I feel a bit of tightness in my left Achilles tendon upon arising in the morning and I stay cognizant of how things feel in the forefoot pad of my right foot because the structure of that foot the second and third metatarsals carry more than their share of footstrike forces.

Three nights ago I ran with about eight members of the Boulder Trail Runners. The idea was to go out easy on the flat and anyone who wanted to let loose on the return could do so. I decided to go with the lead group that let loose, but I soon found myself losing seconds on them. After about a mile I was 25 seconds behind. I kept pushing and felt that I was running faster than I did in the Bolder Boulder. Sure enough; I ran three plus miles at 7:15 pace. I did catch and pass one of them who didn't sustain the pace but I still ended up a little over a minute behind three others. Two of them are running a 100 miler this weekend. It was good for me to get the fast turn over which I usually don't on the climbs and descents I typically do.

Two evenings ago I ran a bit more typical route from the house on trails with lots of ups and down over six and a half miles at 10 minute pace.

Last night I went down to Eldorado Springs and cruised on the trails there; I felt like I could have kept going and going as far as muscles and energy were concerned but I had only had time for seven miles.

Friday, June 10, 2011

In Transition

Yesterday evening I finally escaped for a run. I ran the Bolder Boulder on Memorial Day and was content with 49:22 for the 10K. I had done a lot of hill work prior to the race which evidently is not the same as speed work so I was a little slower than I had hoped. We have been busy with one priority or another for days and we also spent four days in a heavy haze from the Arizona wildfire so it was just as well I didn't run. The day after the race I got out with Alex for a 4 mile run and the only other run before last night was a three mile jog with Elliott in the running stroller so when I hopped off the motorcycle to run with the Boulder Trail Runners I felt like a race horse when the gates are opened.

There were about 20 runners ready to go at the Fowler Trailhead in Eldorado Springs when I pulled up. As soon as I was out of my motorcycle clothes the group took of uphill. I took off and soon found myself running at the head of the group. I stayed at the front for the first mile which was all uphill and continued there for the next half mile or so which was flat. We stopped at the base of the Rattlesnake Gulch trail. Some of the runners had never been there before; I knew I would have to pace myself up the mile and a half 9 percent grade so I waited until the most enthusiastic had bolted up the trail.

I've never run the entire route without walking some sections and last night was no different, but the walks were fewer and shorter. It seemed that in no time we were up to the railroad tracks. It was a somewhat eerie scene at the mouth of the tunnel with low clouds that had us all in a fog. On the return I started out in the with the faster third of the group and held on at the back for most of the speedy mogul-bashing descent. Toward the end where the descent was more gradual and the trail smoother I was dropped by the lead group but finished maybe 20 seconds behind them.

My legs had all kinds of strange cramps in the night. I've never had cramps in the muscles on the front side of my lower legs. The muscles clenching at the shins was excruciating as I tried massaging them. Everything seems fine this morning. I'm ready to resume my summer regimen of amassing mileage.